The Intrusion of White Families Into Bilingual Schools

By Integrated Schools | January 2, 2018

Dual Language programs are fantastic for a host of reasons… and they can be damn impressive mechanisms for school integration.

But when we hide integration behind the coolio-program-that-gives-my-kid-another-advantage, we are undermining its greatest promise. When we ‘sell’ dual immersion in service to the narrative that it is Right and Holy and Natural to get every last opportunity for our own children regardless of the impact of our choice on other children, we all lose. We shouldn’t let dual immersion fall into the same trap that magnet programs often do – trying to *do* school integration by selling everything *except* school integration.

Not in all places, not to generalize or gloss over the incredibly hard work that many dual immersion programs undertake to uplift the value of integration (linguistic AS WELL AS racial/ethnic/socioeconomic), but we’ve seen too often that these programs can do such a good job of attracting families of privilege that the school gentrifies. The PTAs gentrify. The waitlists grow, the power shifts and the privileged students concentrate in certain classrooms. Whether the intent is avaricious or virtuous, the impact can be disastrous.

Yes, there *should* be as many dual immersion programs as there are families who would like to send their kids. There should be enough bilingual teachers to go around. There should be thoughtful policies around enrollment. There should be many things. But we can’t ignore the impact of privilege in these programs. Those of us who send our kids to dual immersion programs can be advocates for equity and inclusion on campus and activists at the district level for integration-focused enrollment plans.

Dual immersion should not be another place that privilege wins.


In a recent Atlantic article “The Intrusion of White Families Into Bilingual Schools”, Conor Williams explores the benefits of dual immersion alongside the very real impact of these programs in many neighborhoods…

He writes:  “[C]ommunities across the country are looking to start and expand dual-immersion programs. Multilingualism is hot, especially in gentrifying urban areas with shifting populations. Many white, English-dominant families are moving to economically dynamic cities for their promise of upward social mobility, and these cities’ tight housing markets are bringing them into the same areas as linguistically diverse communities of immigrant families. The cities’ school districts are using dual-immersion programs to encourage these new residents to send their children to schools in their own zip codes … But—and here’s the rub—if a two-way dual-immersion program helps generate middle-class interest in multilingualism, that dynamic could also undermine the program’s design and effectiveness. What happens when rising demand from privileged families starts pushing English learners out of these programs? Advocates for educational equity are already seeing this specific problem play out in their communities.…/the-middle-class-tak…/549278/…

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Integrated Schools is growing a grassroots movement of, by and for parents who are intentionally, joyfully and humbly enrolling their children in integrating schools. Learn more >

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